On Oct. 16, the N.J. Commissioner of Education issued a decision in a case which involved a board member’s appeal of a School Ethics Commission ruling and penalty.

In the appeal, the board member challenged the School Ethics Commission (SEC) determination that he violated the Board Member Code of Ethics when he attended a teachers’ union meeting without board authorization to express his support for the teachers during a time when the board member was also seeking the removal of the chief school administrator.  The SEC recommended a one-year suspension for the board member.

The commissioner upheld the SEC’s determination that the board member violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(d) requiring board members to carry out their responsibilities, not to administer the schools, but, together with their fellow board members, to see that they are well-run; and N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(e) which requires that board members recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.

The commissioner said that the record clearly showed that the appellant was well aware of the significant issues between the district’s teachers and the superintendent when he attended the meeting.

He nonetheless inserted himself into the middle of the relationship, and his intent was to have the superintendent removed from her position. Testimony indicated that at least one member of the union believed the appellant was empathizing with the union members and wanted to make sure that the teachers felt supported in their dealings with the superintendent.

Furthermore, the appellant attended the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) meeting without any formal board approval, or any proof of informal consent.

However, while finding that the SEC decision concerning that the violation was clearly supported by the record, the commissioner modified the recommended one-year suspension, imposing a 60-day suspension instead.  The commissioner determined that the one-year penalty recommended by the SEC was not consistent with other cases involving similar offenses.

For further information on this ethics case, please contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254 or your board attorney.